Day 15- Landing in Hanoi, Vietnam
It feels weird being separated from my friends, Daniel, Nadine, and Hsien after meeting and traveling together through Laos last week. When I landed at the airport, I was supposed to get picked up by a hired driver, but he wasn’t there. I found an ATM, got a SIM card, and looked again before heading outside to immediately get asked if I needed a taxi. I guess using a taxi is the best option to get into town from the airport. I asked, “How much?”, and he said, “Meter.” I agreed knowing this should cost about 400,000 dong ($19 US) and depending on how he drove, I could pay more. I told him to take me to St. Joseph’s Cathedral, but when we got down there he tried pulling the whole, this hotel that hotel crap they talked about in the guide books and I ended up paying about 440,000 dong ($21). A couple bucks may not seem like a lot to those in the west, but a couple bucks is a big deal in other parts of the world. And those dollars lost add up over time.
When I got to my room around 11 PM, I was ready to get some sleep so I would be rested for the next day. The staff were super friendly and the place serves free breakfast. I’ll be hitting that up in the morning!!
I got up and ate my free breakfast, which included scrambled eggs, bacon, bread, and coffee. It actually wasn’t that bad! From here, I walked around the corner to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It’s the oldest Roman Catholic church in Hanoi. It was consecrated on Christmas night in 1886 and in order to be build, the French demolished Bao Thien Pagoda, which dated back to the 12th century. I was built to resemble the Notre Dame in Paris and holds services only on Sundays.
I stopped at a travel agent to book my 3 day/2 night Ha Long Bay boat trip. I ended up paying $135, which I feel is double what I should be paying. She sold me on the quality of the boat and accommodations, so I guess I will find out if I get my money’s worth. I also booked my night train ticket to Hue Friday night. Because of Tet, I need to plan a little more I think.
My next stop was the Old City Gate, built in 1749, and the Long Bien Bridge. This bridge was built between 1899- 1902 during the French occupation. It had been bombed many times because of different conflicts and rebuilt. This includs a number of bombings in 1967 and 1972 by the U.S. army.
Now I’m off to the Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake. This lake is the center of Hanoi and the temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. In the center of the lake is a small building called Tortoise Tower. There are no bridges to go visit, it is just out there on a little island.
From here I was looking for the Museum of the Revolution, but failed in this quest. I could have stopped at the Museum of History instead, but opted not to go. I continued my walk at passed the Hanoi Opera House, that was constructed between 1901-1911 and the Cultural Friendship Palace.
This next building is the Ambassador’s Pagoda. It is the only part that remains of a 15th century hall that burned down and is often used for official ceremonies.
Not far from the pagoda was Maison Central, otherwise known as the “Hanoi Hilton”. This place housed U.S. POW’s and Vietnamese revolutionaries. Most of what was shown, in regards to the U.S. POW’s was how good they were treated with propaganda videos depicting this. No different than a U.S. propaganda video of that era. They even had John McCain’s flight suit on display. But, a lot of what was on display focused on how the French treated prisoners there during their occupation.
After Maison Central I headed over to the Temple of Literature. It was constructed in 1070 first to honor Confucius and now to celebrate scholars of Vietnam.
Lastly, I headed to the Statue of Lenin. I was hoping to also go up the Hanoi Flag Tower and visit the Vietnam Military History Museum, but that will have to wait for tomorrow!
After the first day of Hanoi, I was tired of walking around and ready to leave. Everywhere you go, someone is asking if you need a ride or wants you to buy something. Plus, it is so noisy and smoggy with millions of motorbikes driving around constantly. Now, I am in the old district and can’t say what another part of town is like. It could be very different. Plus, I may just be oversensitive after coming from laid back Laos!
I got up early today to see Ho Chi Minh’s body! I saw Mao in China a few years back with my friend Nicole and since then I have made it a mission to see all the dead dictators. Lenin in Moscow and the Kim family in North Korea would complete the Dead Dictator Tour, unless there is another somewhere I wasn’t aware of.
I got up at 6:30 in the morning to I could get there by about 7:30. It opened at 8am and I figured there would be a huge line, like when I went to see Mao, but there wasn’t. In and out I went. Like everything I read, he looks like he is asleep and a bit waxy. After seeing Ho Chi Minh I headed over to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which was pretty interesting. Another item on the must see list was The One-pillar Pagoda. Fortunately for me, it was just outside of the museum. It was originally built in 1049.
I was looking for the Ho Chi Minh Residence after the museum, but later found out that it was next to the mausoleum exit inside the grounds. I was not about to go back through security, because the lines started getting longer now. After making a number of attempts to get back in an alternative way, but getting busted by guards continuously, I walked past the Presidential Palace and headed to West Lake, Hanoi’s largest fresh water lake, to see the Tran Quoc Pagoda. It is regarded as the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and has a history that dates back 1,500 years.
My legs and feet were killing me at this point, because of all the walking the day before. But, I was heading to my last stops, the Hanoi Flag Tower and Vietnam Military History Museum. Of course when I get there they are closed again, this time for lunch. I waited around at a coffee shop right next door. The place looked like a great place for coffee, but it tasted horrible. I didn’t even finish it. I also bought a sandwich, but had to force it down. Over the last two days, I just have not found anything good to eat. Making me miss Lao food!
While I had some time to kill, I went across the street to chill out in the sun near the Lenin statue. While there, I ended up talking and hanging with a British traveler. When the museum opened, we had a pretty good chat about Mongolia and Russia, my next possible destinations this summer. I love hearing about other peoples experiences and enjoy sharing mine.
The first picture is the Hanoi Flag Tower. Another symbol of Hanoi, it was originally built as an observatory in 1812. The second picture is surrounded by military vehicles, Vietnamese and American. As you can tell, they are very proud of the wreckage from planes shot down. There was another park that had the wreckage of a B52 Bomber and I guess the Air Force Museum had a number of military vehicles and wreckage that had been acquired during the Vietnam War/ Conflict/ Occupation… I was just a little to burned out to make it anywhere else. I had seen pretty much all I wanted to see in Hanoi to this point.
That was the end of my day. I negotiated a ride on the back of a motorbike and chilled out at my hotel the rest of the afternoon/ night. Tomorrow, I will be getting up to take a three day/ two night tour of Halong Bay! Should be beautiful 🙂
Resource: Ho Chi Minh Photo. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-08/north-vietnamese-leader-ho-chi-minh-lies-in-state/4560074.